SAS data ethics head named to National AI Advisory Committee

Reggie Townsend among those who will advise the president on AI issues

The US Department of Commerce has named Reggie Townsend, Director of the Data Ethics Practice at analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) software company SAS, to the National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee (NAIAC). The NAIAC will advise the president and the National AI Initiative Office on a range of issues related to AI. 

Created in response to the National AI Initiative Act of 2020, the NAIAC provides recommendations on the current state of US AI competitiveness, the state of science around AI and AI workforce issues. AI encompasses many technologies, including machine learning, neural networks, computer vision and natural language processing. While it has the potential to improve quality of life, it also can create or exacerbate inequities.

“AI comes with promise and peril,” said Townsend. “The need for legal, technical, social and academic frameworks to capitalize on the promise of AI while mitigating the peril is not only important but urgent in these times. I’m hopeful we will succeed and consider it an honor and a privilege to do my part.”

As Director of the SAS Data Ethics Practice, Townsend leads a globally coordinated effort to empower employees and customers to deploy data-driven systems that promote human well-being, agency and equity.

“At the heart of everything he does, Reggie emphasizes centering technology around people to ensure a positive impact on our society,” said SAS CEO Jim Goodnight. “I know he will bring the same collaborative approach and wise counsel that makes him such a valued leader at SAS to the committee.”

Support from North Carolina lawmakers

Upon the announcement of NAIAC board members, two North Carolina congresspeople extended their congratulations.

  • “Reggie Townsend is a dedicated and conscientious artificial intelligence expert, and I am pleased by his appointment to the newly formed National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee," said Representative David Price (NC-04). “His career commitment to equity and oversight in the field of AI will be critical in establishing NAIAC's important work, and I look forward to his leadership on the national level."
  • “The Research Triangle in North Carolina is a global leader in science and technology, propelled by companies and visionaries like Reggie Townsend, who is performing cutting-edge work in the field of artificial intelligence at SAS,” said Congresswoman Deborah Ross (NC-02). “Reggie has not only been a leader in technology and business development for decades, he has also championed initiatives for equity and inclusion to improve the workplace for everyone. I’m proud that he’ll now be advising the Department of Commerce and bringing his expertise to the White House.”

Seeing innovation through a lens of equity and fairness

Townsend has also recently been invited to join the board of EqualAI, a nonprofit organization focused on reducing unconscious bias in the development and use of AI. In addition to leading the SAS Data Ethics Practice, Townsend serves on the leadership council of the SAS Black Initiatives Group (BIG), one of several company-sponsored inclusion groups led by employees. He is also on the SAS Diversity and Inclusion Action Board.

Townsend has more than 20 years of experience in strategic planning, program management, consulting and business development, focusing on topics such as advanced analytics, cloud computing and AI. With visibility across multiple industries and sectors where the use of AI is growing, he combines this extensive business and technology expertise with a passion for equity and human empowerment.

More about the NAIAC

NAIAC members represent a broad and interdisciplinary range of AI-relevant disciplines from across academia, industry, nonprofits and civil society. Committee members will serve three-year terms and may serve two consecutive terms at the discretion of the secretary. According to US Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves, in an announcement of the NAIAC committee members:

“The diverse leaders of our inaugural National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee represent the best and brightest of their respective fields and will be instrumental in helping the department strike this balance. Their anticipated recommendations to the president and the National AI Initiative Office will serve as building blocks for US AI policy for decades to come, and I am immensely grateful for their voluntary service.”

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Reggie Townsend, director of the SAS Data Ethics Practice, among those who will advise the president on AI issues.